Daniel Eran Dilger
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IBM Launches Pilot Program for Migrating to Macs

Daniel Eran Dilger
As further evidence of the growing interest in Macs among enterprise customers, IBM’s Research Information Services launched an internal pilot program designed to study the possibility of moving significant numbers of employees to the Mac platform. The study has already found an enthusiastic response from participants and is helping to drive Mac support for IBM’s business applications.

IBM’s Mac Pilot Program.
A summary of the pilot program, detailed in a IBM document obtained by RoughlyDrafted, revealed that IBM is actively working to move away from its dependence upon Microsoft Windows and toward a heterogeneous cross-platform future.

“In line with IBM’s external strategy of offering a true ‘Open Client’ that may be Windows, Linux or a Mac,” the document noted, “Research IS is focusing on providing an IBM application stack on multiple Operating Systems, rather than be confined to one or the other.”

IBM exited the PC business when it sold its Personal Computing Division and the ThinkPad brand to Lenovo in 2005. The pilot program document outlined a series of reasons for evaluating MacBook Pro laptops as a replacement for the Windows-based ThinkPads currently in use inside the company:

  • Alternative to Microsoft Windows
  • Less prone to security issues
  • Widely used in the academic world with which Research has close ties
  • Many new hires are more comfortable with the Mac and lately asking for it
  • Growing Mac community in Research and within IBM that finds the development environment on Mac more convenient
  • Growing acceptance of the Mac as a consumer and business oriented client platform
  • WPLC strategy includes significant investments in achieving the Mac platform parity

The first phase of the pilot program ran from October 2007 through January 2008. It distributed 24 MacBook Pros to researchers at different sites within IBM Research. Participants kept their existing ThinkPads, but were asked to only use them as a “last resort for applications not working yet on the Mac.”

After the four month test period, the 14 research scientists, 8 software engineers, a director, and a VP staff assistant participating in the pilot program were asked to provide feedback.

Of the 22 of 24 who responded, 18 said that the Mac offered a “better or best experience” compared to their existing computer, one rated it “equal or good,” and three said the Mac offered a “worse experience.” Seven reported having no or marginal prior knowledge of using Macs, while 15 reported having moderate or expert knowledge of the platform.

Software Issues for IBM to Address.
All of the participants reported that it was easy to install IBM’s internal software on the Macs. They listed a series of applications that were important or necessary for their work but not yet available for the Mac, including:

  • IBM’s own DB2 database and Websphere application server
  • IBM’s Rational Application Developer IDE for J2EE apps
  • IBM’s WebSphere Integration Developer SOA development tool
  • support for IBM’s InfoPrint workgroup laser printers
  • Microsoft Visio diagraming software and NetMeeting video conferencing tool

Other drawbacks or weaknesses users reported in the Mac platform included support issues with IBM’s Lotus Sametime instant messaging software and a “lack of robustness or support for Microsoft applications – PowerPoint issues, no NetMeeting, [and] limitations for tools running on Internet Explorer.”

19 of 22 (86%) Users Ask to Keep the Mac.
However, when asked if they would rather keep their MacBook Pro or return to using their familiar ThinkPad, only three chose the ThinkPad; the rest decided to keep the Mac laptop and obtain VMWare Fusion licenses to run Windows when necessary. The document noted additional comments participants left as feedback on their Mac experience, and not all were positive:

“When presenting at customer or external meetings, I have been greeted with the ‘wow factor.’ ‘Where’s the ThinkPad, IBM uses Apples now?’”

“I commend IBM on taking this bold step in providing an alternative to Windows. It will definitely allow us to think different.”

“This can free us from the Windows stranglehold.”

“I have been a true PC stalwart for 2+ decades, but after trying Vista, I’m ready for a change.”

“It has been easier learning the Mac than learning Vista.”

“There are a number of features in the Mac that make it much better than a Windows machine. Overall productivity in using the Mac platform is higher. I can imagine that the new version of the operating system will make those features even better.”

“Getting wireless running was a piece of cake on the Mac, much simpler than the PC.”

“The ability to run Windows XP in a VM under Parallels is a great feature.”

“Upgraded to [Mac OS X Leopard] 10.5 to run [Lotus] Notes 8.5 alpha code, and some things broke, especially wireless. Fixed with aid of community from forums.”

“If the remote connection and Sametime issues are worked out, I think that Mac users can be productive in IBM. However, if I had to recommend a non-Windows setup, I would recommend Linux on a ThinkPad. I see the convenience and reliability of ThinkPad hardware as superior, and the Mac OS is still a proprietary OS that seems to require a Windows license for some tasks anyway. I don’t see enough of an advantage in the Mac OS to be worth the incompatibility issues when collaborating with my colleagues.”

Mac Pilot Program Expansion in 2008.
As a followup to the successful initial phase of the program, IBM plans to expand the pilot to 50 users in the first half of 2008, and based on feedback, add an additional 50 to 100 users in the second half of the year. IBM also outlined plans to improve its Mac software offerings, build the support infrastructure needed for Mac clients, and work to ensure that Macs support its internal security policies.

The company’s internal “Mac@IBM” website, cited in the pilot program document, also references an official group for Mac users within IBM, with over 930 members in 26 countries. It is described as “one of the largest and fastest growing communities within IBM.”


IBM’s software strategy is also embracing the Mac platform, with a new version of Lotus Notes and an integrated package of office productivity software based on OpenOffice and branded as Lotus Symphony being slated for release for the Mac later this year. Support for Notes email and calendaring on the iPhone and iPod Touch is also reported to be in IBM’s plans.

IBM’s Strategic Interest in Macs Goes Beyond Pilot Program

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  • Berend Schotanus

    Yet another piece of evidence for the decline of the Microsoft Windows platform! Of course the symbolic value of an IBM switch (IBM as the founding father of the PC) is even more important than just another major company considering Mac.

    It might be interesting to speculate about what a further future for Microsoft can look like. Will Microsoft face a slow decline and will it be able to reposition itself like IBM once did? Or will the Windows platform face a ‘fall of the Berlin Wall’ kind of implosion caused by a combination of increased malware pressure and evaporating support?

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    @ Berend

    I doubt it’ll be quite as dramatic as that. For Windows to really fall while the PC is still strong, would require a dual sided Mac and Linux assault. The Mac is meeting the challenge, but despite EE-PC’s (I’ll never remember how to spell that…) and other starlets there is still an aching silence on that side of the battlefield.

    My own view is that the iPhone and handhelds of every variety will suffocate the PC platform, starting with the desktop. The PC will continue to exist in its original habitat and with its most loyal fans, but its artificial ubiquity will prove passing.

  • Jon T

    That is impressive. I hope this will be bringing a few smiles to faces in Cupertino. The irony of it!

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  • sebastianlewis

    That is interesting though, if IBM builds out their services infrastructure to support Mac OS X AND Windows AND Linux-based operating systems AND AIX AND… well whatever other operating systems IBM is still using (z/OS.. and probably others I don’t know about), well it is a good thing for companies that rely on IBM’s software and services to have all that choice eh? heh

    Besides that, IBM has also been focusing on the health care industry a lot lately, while Apple and other hardware makers are afraid of doing anything there because of potential liability issues (which is stupid since they advertise their computers as being more reliable and easy to use than Windows computers) IBM is going to completely dominate that field before they wake up. Oh well.

    Any chance you’re going to write a bit more about IBM’s recent activities?


  • http://home.comcast.net/~daguy daGUY

    I don’t know if ThinkPads have gotten any better since they were sold to Lenovo, but in my experience, they are absolutely horrible laptops. My college had a deal with IBM to provide computers, so most incoming students who didn’t have a laptop would get a ThinkPad through the school. I know five people who ALL had their new ThinkPads die on them within 2 years – all due to serious problems that should NOT crop up that soon, if at all (i.e. hard drive failure, motherboard failure, etc.).

    Personally, I think it might be worth it for IBM to use MacBooks purely as Windows machines, just for the higher quality hardware!

    This pilot program is certainly interesting (especially coming from IBM), but let’s not get carried away – 100 or so users is statistically insignificant when you consider that they have 356,000 employees.

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  • sebastianlewis


    You’re right that it’s statistically insignificant, but the real significance would be if IBM built out their support and services (and software) to also support Mac OS X and Apple hardware combined with their own server hardware, and also if more of their employees switched over they are likely to do that. The reason IBM’s pilot programs take so damn long is probably because they want to get it right the first time when they make a decision to do something like this.


  • dicklacara

    Not the first time time this has happened…

    I worked for IBM up to 1980 in Palo Alto. I bought an Apple ][, in 1978, for my personal amazement.

    In 1979, our department in IBM was finalizing support for a new unannounced Color Terminal that was supposed to be able to connect to microcomputers (as they were called then). The department manager asked if I would bring in my Apple ][ to see if they could make it work… after a few minutes fiddling with adapter settings and a bust-out cable… success!

    Later, I left IBM and opened a computer store. When VisiCalc became the hot thing, various local IBM departments would buy or rent Apple ][s from us.

    In 1980, we sold some Apple ][s and a Corvus network to the lab at the IBM plant in San Jose.

    In 1981, we upgraded the Corvus network to add the new IBM PCs, Apple ///s, and several S100 computers.

    So, in 1981, in all its glory, IBM had a microcomputer LAN with computers running:

    Apple ][ OS;
    Apple /// SOS*;
    PC DOS;
    Several Dialects of CP/m;

    all booting from, and storing files on, a 10 megabyte Hard Disk… sharing files, not so much!

    Still later, AIR, we Gerry-rigged a PC/jr to run on the same network.

    *SOS was Apple’s acronym for Sophisticated Operating System. Others claimed that it was because it was slower than Smoke Off S***. Still others claimed that because the OS came on the Apple///s screwball, proprietary floppy disks it was like the Army mess hall SOS.

    We also sold quite a bit of Apple gear to the IBM Research Lab in Los Gatos… but they would never tell us what it was used for.

  • tundraboy

    ‘Many new hires are more comfortable with the Mac and lately asking for it’

    The future is upon us, and it has a bite on it.

    This is generational. Apple is GM, Microsoft is Toyota. We know how that story played out.

  • tundraboy

    Oops. Microsoft is GM, Apple is Toyota, and my face is red.

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  • http://www.jphotog.com ewelch

    So, IBM is not going to pull another OS/2 and do something, but then never really support it? Without the PC division, they no longer have internal forces trying to destroy competition for Microsoft. This could be a good thing! Just too slow.

    And my big issue is not compatibility with Lotus Notes, or even Exchange, but Active Directory. I sure hope 10.5.3 fixes that!

  • http://www.thecarbonlesspaper.com johnnyapple

    Well, with 356,000 employes 100 users is not significant now but if just 10% switch, IBM will be one of the largest corporate accounts for Apple. If IBMs pilot is successful and it sound like it is I’d have to believe that many other companies of all sizes will take another look at Macs.

  • lmasanti

    “There are a number of features in the Mac that make it much better than a Windows machine. Overall productivity in using the Mac platform is higher. I can imagine that the new version of the operating system will make those features even better.”

    Caution: This dude is infected with “the next release will solve all your problems” distributed by Microsoft during the last 30 years.

    You do not need your imagination to use a Mac. It works!

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  • droughtquake

    Too bad IBM wasn’t as supportive back when Macs used PowerPC chips! I’m not holding my breath, IBM is fickle when it comes to Apple.

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  • Ramayya

    There is cross platform software from ConceptDraw that is very good replacement for Visio. Ominigraffle, the Mac only software is also a good replacement for Visio. “Visual Paradigm for UML” is as good as Rational, and is cross platform.

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  • http://www.thecarbonlesspaper.com johnnyapple

    Ramayya, maybe Apple could add a diagramming package to iWork – or IBM could deliver it’s own under the Symphony brand. We don’t need no stinkin’ Visio.

  • SamLowry

    now that Apple ditched the G5, the Mac becomes interesting to IBM?

  • tlbandito

    @ SamLowry

    This is exactly what I was wondering. Why didn’t IBM help out Apple more in the mid 90s when Microsoft was eating IBM’s lunch (after MS gave them the shaft) and Apple was using IBM chips. Not to mention the early 2000s when Apple was using G5s and had transitioned to OSX. Why be dependent on your mortal enemy?

    Same goes for Motorola—why not buy computers that use the chips you are manufacturing and selling?

    Talk about not eating your own dog-food.

  • droughtquake

    @ tlbandito

    Motorola probably felt burned by Steve when he cancelled the Mac-Clone program when he returned to Apple. Motorola (StarMax) was a licensee which was apparently focused on business users, the Umax SuperMac series was a much, much better seller in the store I worked at even though we sold both brands (along with the ‘Real Stuff’).

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  • lmasanti

    “This is exactly what I was wondering. Why didn’t IBM help out Apple more in the mid 90s when Microsoft was eating IBM’s lunch (after MS gave them the shaft) and Apple was using IBM chips.”

    Two points:
    a) The 1984 Macintosh launching ad was a straight shot on IBM face (although the boss appears more like ol’ Bill Gates… by that time he was almost nobody). The 1985 Lemmings ad was still more focused.
    …so IBM –that also “has feelings”– wouldn’t be so caring to Apple.
    b) IBM was developing “the next operating system” with Apple, and also designing the chips to run the computers.
    …so, the fight against Microsoft joint the forces but each one took its own side.

  • HamSandwich

    This is great news…if only because it brings IBM’s great wealth of enterprise know-how to tne nascent Mac enterprise market. I work in Enterprise IT but have used all OSs since my early IT days.

    I prefer Macs…but that my personal preference.

    Building an Enterprise network from scratch means shifting a business with thousands of existing business processes centered on Windows/Novell NDS/Unix to one that includes and embraces MacOS X.

    Apple will never build the right tools – but neither did Microsoft. They built a good base, let the market build the tools and then bought the best of them out as they grew up and showed off cool new technologies.

    People think Microsoft is a monolith for purely hegemonic reasons. Try taking part in their developer activities. Apple sucks in that department, so it’s great to see IBM taking up the slack with what seems to at least be an educated effort to seewhat gaps are there when workers move to Macs.

    Pilots like these are great – they highlight what people truly miss, show off what parts work well, and educate everyone along the way. No sense theorizing. They are learning along the way what Macs will be useful for in the enterprise, even if the VM is a required tool.

    I for one would love to dump windows in some areas – not all though as it’s a dream to manage. Sadly there is a lot of managing so pick your caveat ;)


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  • akebono74

    I wouldn’t get too excited. IBM consists of an employee base well over 350,000 world wide. This pilot constitutes an extremely small percentage of users. Also I believe IBM is the largest shareholder in Lenovo and is a significant investor in Microsoft (even though old Bill pretty much robbed Windows development from them back in the 80’s). Watson Research works well for this pilot for the reason as mentioned in this article that Mac’s traditionally have fared well in the world of education. Lets face it folks, scientists aren’t like what they show in the movies. For the most part these guys are writing papers, surfing the web and sending Email’s.

    Given the count stated here within this pilot, I think even Microsoft has more Apple systems in production then IBM does. Those of us in the IT arena can attest that although apple support may be growing for developers, it has a long way before Mac OS truly becomes a viable platform in the professional environment. Looking at applications from enterprise accounting, CRM, communications, engineering, and web development (Microsoft .NET being a huge factor). Apple still has a long way to go.

    Don’t get me wrong. I own a few Mac’s at home and love the Mac OS platform. It just isn’t quite ready for the enterprise arena just yet. In order for Apple to be truly affective in the Enterprise, it has to win over the Server application development community. They just haven’t made a significant enough dent to become a viable solution commercially.

    Microsoft is a Juggernaut when it comes to their OS and development platforms. To become truly competitive would take a competitor literally decades, and given the amount of pure cash Microsoft packs, you better come with some serious financial baking. In the end they will just buy their way ahead of you.

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  • http://homepage.mac.com/lunaticsx/ LunaticSX


    “Still others claimed that because the OS came on the Apple///s screwball, proprietary floppy disks it was like the Army mess hall SOS.”

    The Apple /// used exactly the same kinds of floppy disks as the Apple II, which were the same floppy disks used for PCs and most CP/M machines. The Apple /// and Apple II used identical disk drive hardware, giving a formatted capacity of 143 KB per side on each disk. In Apple II emulation mode the Apple /// could boot off of and read data from Apple II disks directly. When ProDOS was later developed for the Apple II it used the same formatting scheme as SOS, so then Apple IIs could read data directly off Apple /// disks, as well (not that there were ever all that many Apple /// disks around…).

    You may be thinking of the later “Twiggy” floppy disks for the Lisa. They’re the ones Apple designed themselves, with dual read/write windows on each side of the disk (four total), and extra read/write heads in the drives to use them, to try to get data on and off the disks as fast as possible. That was when common wisdom was still that doing everything in parallel was the fastest and best way to go, before the Mac was introduced with its “serial for everything” approach (aside from the floppy port and later SCSI ports and drives). Now even all hard drives are going towards Serial ATA.

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